Tensions ease on Korean peninsula — but experts still wary about North's nuclear weapons

ABOVE: North Korea is willing to hold talks with the United States on denuclearization and will suspend nuclear tests while those talks are under way, the South said on Tuesday after a delegation returned from the North where it met leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is reportedly willing to talk about abandoning its county’s nuclear weapons program and is ready to hold diplomatic talks with the United States, according to the South.

Although many experts are hailing this as a diplomatic breakthrough, Andre Schmid, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of East Asian Studies, said there still may be many roadblocks ahead.

READ MORE: North Korea willing to freeze nuclear missile tests, hold talks with U.S.

“It is a breakthrough? We have to be more patient and see what happens, as there are a lot of roads ahead that may not be travelled,” he said.

“The statement from North Korea is that they are willing to talk about it — not get rid of it . So it still may be a long way before they get rid of them.”

WATCH: Kim Jong Un invites South Korean president to Pyongyang for talks

The prospect of peace comes after a historic meeting between South Korean diplomats and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday. It was the first meeting to take place since Kim Jong Un took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011.

The head of the South Korean delegation, Chung Eui-yong, said the North says it would not carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks with the international community were underway.

“North Korea made clear its willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the fact there is no reason for it to have a nuclear program if military threats against the North are resolved and its regime is secure,” Chung said in a media briefing.


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Kim also agreed to meet with South Korea’s president at the border village of Panmunjom, in late April. Seoul has said its next move is to brief American officials.

Charles K. Armstrong, a professor of Korean Studies at Columbia University, believes the summit is an important symbolic step.

“It’s the first time the countries will meet outside of  Pyongyang,” Armstrong said. “This time it’s in a neutral ground — just inside the South Korea border. This is very important symbolically and shows North Korea will meet them halfway. A lot remains to be done.”

WATCH: North and South Korea to open talks aimed at easing nuclear tensions

Will talks lead to denuclearization?

North Korea’s reported willingness to hold a dialogue with the U.S. to discuss denuclearization is a change in tune after a year of threats of nuclear annihilation.

In the past, Kim has repeatedly said North Korea would not get rid of its nuclear program.


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“Our nuclear weapons will never be a subject matter of negotiations as long as the United States’ policy of pressure on the DPRK has not been uprooted once and for all,” North Korea Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency in October.

For months, Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have exchanged fiery rhetoric and crude insults over North Korea’s barrage of weapons tests.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions. However, it has now been more than two months since its last missile test in late November.

WATCH: North Korea calls latest U.N. sanctions an ‘act of war’, talks up nuclear threat to U.S. mainland

In response, the U.S. hit North Korea with a new round of tough sanctions in December.

Although North Korea has said its nuclear program was not up for negotiation, Armstrong said the nation has “always wants a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.”

But it may come at a cost.


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One of the messages South Korea brought back from Monday’s meeting with the North, was that the nation would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed, and if it receives a credible security guarantee.

“But that could be difficult to achieve,” Schmid said. “What if North Korea says, ‘We want American troops out of South Korea.’ That’s 40,000  troops.”

Why now?

North and South Korea are still technically at war but since January, tensions between the two nations have started to ease.

North Korea sent around 500 people to the Olympics, including Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un, in part of conciliatory gestures with the South that brought a temporary lull to tensions surrounding the North’s nuclear program.


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Schmid said North Korea has also achieved a “certain level of weapon development,” which may leave the nation feeling fairly confident.

Economic sanctions may also be playing a role.

“They have been more severe in the last months and North Korea may be looking for some relief on the sanctions,” Armstrong said. “And South Korea was the logical partner to reach out to at the moment. But ultimately North  Korea would want to discuss this with the U.S.”

WATCH: U.S. won’t talk with North Korea until they ban nuclear weapons

Both Schmid and Armstrong agree that it’s tough to say what will be accomplished through the talks. But in the meantime, Armstrong said it’s a “step forward and the first positive news we had in months.”

Trump sees ‘possible progress’ in talks

On Tuesday, Trump said he saw “possible progress” after the summit announcement.


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Donald Trump cites ‘progress’ with North Korea, says ‘U.S. ready to go hard in either direction’

“Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.

However, the U.S. defence intelligence chief said he’s wary of North Korea’s claim that it’s ready to negotiate on its nuclear program and will halt tests.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he doesn’t share some lawmakers’ optimism about the latest development.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out,” Ashley said.

WATCH: The nuclear threat posed by North Korea to the rest of the world

— With files from the Associated Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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